An environmental protest in Panama took a deadly turn Tuesday when two activists blocking a highway were gunned down. The accused shooter is a 77-year-old Panamanian-born U.S. citizen who was held up by the protesters before his allegedly violent response.
A nearby TV news crew captured the shocking incident as it unfolded.
Kenneth Darlington is the retired lawyer identified in the video. He became stuck in a traffic jam as demonstrators deployed a popular recent tactic of environmentalists and blocked the Pan-American Highway about 50 miles west of the capital, Panama City.
The protest was sparked by a recent government decision to allow a Canadian firm to resume copper extraction. The ore is needed for the manufacture of electric vehicles.
Darlington addressed some of the protesters and attempted to move some of the impediments placed in the roadway. Then he produced a handgun and began waving it around.
Anti-mining protests that have roiled Panama for the last two weeks turned deadly on Tuesday when a man allegedly shot and killed two demonstrators, according to police.
— News 360 (@AusNews360) November 9, 2023
An argument ensued, and the suspect is seen on the video lifting his right hand and apparently shooting one of the victims. The man who was shot was holding a flag.
The suspect then can be seen firing a second shot at a man in a black T-shirt. That victim staggered before falling onto the roadway.
Both shooting victims died, one at the scene and the other later in the hospital. They were identified as Abdiel Diaz and Ivan Mendoza. One was a teacher and the other was married to a teacher, according to Newsroom Panama.
Darlington is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Panama. He made his first appearance before a judge Wednesday afternoon and reportedly remained in custody.
Local media indicated that the suspect’s age may work in his favor in the judicial system. It is believed he could skip jail time and be sentenced to house arrest if convicted.
The environmental protest captured national attention as it is now in its third week. Roadblocks forced the closing of schools across Panama and cost businesses an estimated $80 million.
The Pan-American Highway is a hemispheric route that stretches almost 19,000 miles. It spans from Alaska to Argentina, only disappearing in the notorious Darien Gap on the border of Panama and Columbia.
Some 106 miles were never built, and it is now a footpath for illegal migrants on their path to the U.S.